The Concealed Philosophers of Malayalam Cinema

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There exist certain movies in Malayalam Cinema, often only appreciated for their entertainment value or emotional drama, that veils a hidden layer of great characters behind. They are oftentimes too ahead of their time, sprinkling philosophical wisdom inspired by the likes of Nietzsche and Spinoza into their on-screen performance. Let’s examine a few of these unappreciated intellectuals

Ponjikkara, Kalyanaraman (2002)

In the movie, Ponijkkara seems to be part of a catering group run by Ramankutty (Dileep) and Achuthankutty (Lal). He is the head of culinary operations in the catering enterprise. In an interaction with Pyari (Salim Kumar), he gets asked about his marital status. Ponjikkara shares the story of how a potential maiden escaped as soon as she saw him. Pyari proceeds to ask whether he felt remorse from that incident. And Ponjikkara replies –   

വിഷമം വരുമ്പോൾ ഞാൻ ചട്ടുകം എടുത്തു ചുടുള്ള പായസത്തിലിട്ട് രണ്ടു ഇളക്ക് ഇളകും. എന്നിട്ടു വിഷമം തീർന്നിലേങ്കിൽ രണ്ടു പപ്പടം അങ്ങു കാച്ചും

Ponjikkara

What seems like a rebuttal that seems funny on the surface actually reveals the genius of Ponjikkara. Although asked in his personal context, the question is general: What would people do when they suffer and feel intense negative emotions, sadness in this case? As far as we’ve realized, Ponjikkara is a master of his craft. A person who has found their life’s meaning in cooking for such illustrious occasions. As a self-actualized human being, he recognizes the importance of meaning to human life. He alludes to the Great German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche’s ideas here

To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.

Friedrich Nietzsche

For him, the existence of suffering in life is obvious. But he realizes that human beings aren’t affected by suffering insofar as we find meaning in it. He essentially advises Pyari that to survive, in the Nietzschean concept, is to find your meaning. And for him, the meaning is to overlook the preparation of Payasam or make some crunchy Pappadam, as he is a cook.  

Vinod, Nattuvishesham (1991)

Vinod (Mukesh) and Aniyan Kunju (Siddique) are travelers gaining entry to a restricted forest. While entering the gates, they encounter police officers who stop them and ask for their permission letters. At that moment, Vinod shows a glimpse of his depth as an intellectual – 

The coefficient’s of linear expansions is the position of Hemoglobin in the atmosphere. But Why? But Why? Full Many gem of purest serene lay underneath the unfathomed ocean’s unblossomed ! But why? But why?

Vinod Kumar

There’s a lot to unpack here. Vinod is making two observations here. The first one – The coefficient of linear expansions is the position of Hemoglobin in the atmosphere. Here he is hinting at the advancement of modern science that we can identify the position of Hemoglobin (in the atmosphere) with varying coefficients of linear expansions. We’ve reached a point where the efficient approximation of complex biological and ecological phenomena is possible. It seems that he is competent in the fields of Mathematics and Science. Next, the observation goes like this – Full Many gem of purest serene lay underneath the unfathomed ocean’s unblossomed. If a gem lies in a deep ocean bed, no human will ever discover it. It remains there unblossomed to its full potential. This is an acute, strong statement against the establishment of meritocracy. As the prominent American philosopher, Michael J. Sandel mentioned  

For why do the successful owe anything to the less-advantaged members of society? The answer to this question depends on recognizing that, for all our striving, we are not self-made and self-sufficient; finding ourselves in a society that prizes our talents is our good fortune, not our due.

Michael J. Sandel, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good?

Vinod notes how in a post-capitalist world, we are often constrained by our economic deficiencies. Not to mention societal ones. Even then success is defined as a skill that society values and that oscillates across civilizations. Rather than focusing on merit, the noble thing is to be Virtuous.


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